According to the FHSAA, 82 schools in the state will play independent football this season — meaning those schools will not be in a classification, a district nor play for a state championship.
About half of those schools reside in South Florida, from the Key West Conchs in the south up to the Jupiter Christian Eagles in northern Palm Beach County.
There are varying reasons why a team wants to play an independent schedule.
Some are large schools such as Coral Glades High in western Broward County trying to build up its program.
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Last year, the Jaguars had just 19 players on their roster and would have been wiped out had they been forced to play among other Class 8A schools with triple the players.
Coral Glades plays in the Gold Coast Conference with teams such as North Broward, Pembroke Pines Charter, Key West and Archbishop McCarthy.
“This year we have talent and we have depth that we didn’t have last season,” Coral Glades coach Peter Puddie said, adding he now has more than 70 players.
“We have seniors all over the place so that gives us the pieces in place to be a lot more competitive. I think we’ll win between five and seven games this season. I think we’ll be much more evenly matched with our opponents. We have the kids buying into the program, coming out in the spring and staying through the summer.”
Most of the independent schools are smaller, private schools such as Fort Lauderdale’s Calvary Christian, Deerfield Beach Zion Lutheran and Miami’s Florida Christian.
Playing schools with similar backgrounds and academic ideals evens the playing field a bit.
Although some independent schools play teams assigned to district play during the season, many do play for conference titles.
Schools such as Fort Lauderdale’s Pine Crest, Westminster Academy, Florida Christian and Coral Springs Charter play in the Southeastern Conference’s National Division.
“We’re blessed, although we lost 14 pretty good seniors,’’ said Calvary Christian coach Kirk Hoza, whose team went 11-0 to win the Southeastern Conference last year and plays in the National Division this season.
“I’m excited about some of the young kids who are going to have to step up. The challenge for us is not to look back. The reality is 2014 has nothing to do with 2015.”
The American Division includes Ransom Everglades, Miami Country Day, Archbishop Curley and Pompano Beach.
Last year, the Tornadoes ended the season with eight straight wins
“We’re real excited, but in the spring we had to bring the kids back down,’’ Pompano Beach coach Rick Nagy said.
“They had won eight straight, thought it was easy. We’re starting from square one. It’s tough to win games, especially when you’re a smaller school. We’re the smallest public high school in Broward. But I think we’re ready to have a great season.’’
Homestead’s Keys Gate Charter spent the past three seasons playing as an independent, but this year the Knights will be in District 8-4A.
Playing at a smaller level allowed coach Roger Morgan to grow his team to a point where he now feels his team can compete for victories and perhaps make a run in the state playoffs.
“It gave us a chance to establish ourselves,” Morgan said. “We weren’t ready to play in a district when we first started out. You have to learn what it’s like to play high school football, to compete against the best teams in the area. Now we’re ready to go.”
International School of Broward in Hollywood is one of the newest schools in South Florida and the football team will play an independent schedule at least this season.
Coach Charles McCrea says his team won’t play in a conference because it doesn’t plan on being independent very long.
Drawing from southeast Broward, McCrea feels he can field a competitive team from the start.
With the schedule McCrea has set up for the Pumas, he had better be right. ISB will play the likes of Immokalee, Delray-American Heritage and Chapagnat Catholic in its first season of football.
“When you’re starting up, you have to access kids, win over parents and really build a foundation,’’ McCrea said.
“I think we’re headed in the right direction, have a good nucleus of kids. We’re playing a tough schedule, even traveling to the Florida panhandle. It will help us get ready for our next season in which we’ll be in a district somewhere.”
▪ Coral Springs Charter, which lost to Calvary Christian in its championship game last year, brings back 14 starters from a team that won eight games.
“The big thing is we took a step back to see why we failed last year, focused on our weaknesses,” coach Adam Miller said.
“We feel we’ve done what it takes to put ourselves in a good position going into this season. I’m close with the coaches at Calvary, so it’s a fun rivalry.”
▪ Calvary Christian brings back junior quarterback Nick Holm as the Eagles go into the season as a favorite to repeat in the Southeastern.
“I think my experience helps a lot,” Holm said. “Playing at the varsity level is fast and it’s nice to know what the speed is like. I’m trying to step up and be a leader on this team. We’re just trying to get better each day. We’re excited for the challenge.”
Sept. 4: Coral Springs Charter at Pine Crest; Sept. 11: Ransom Everglades at North Broward; West Broward at Pompano Beach; Sept. 25: Calvary Christian at Coral Springs Charter; Westminster Academy at Pine Crest; Oct. 2: Pine Crest at Calvary Christian; Oct. 9: King’s Academy at Coral Springs Charter; Oct 16: Westminster Academy at Calvary Christian; Nov. 14: Southeastern Conference championship, Pompano Beach High.